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Advancing womanpower in tech

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The gender gap in IT reigns fierce. Tech companies still need to level the playing field when it comes to the diversity of their workforces. The question is, what practical steps can be taken to address this?
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Research shows that diverse teams, with higher levels of women in executive roles, drive stronger performances and yield higher returns. In addition, improving gender diversity within the tech workforce is key to addressing the overall digital skills deficit in the sector. However, as Britain’s technology sector thrives, creating new jobs at an unprecedented rate, we need to ensure companies are stepping up to inspire women towards these new opportunities.

Progress is underway

In many organisations, work is already underway to create fair and equal working environments across genders. In fact, more tech companies are taking the lead by conducting gender pay gap audits. This is a welcome step within an industry that has struggled to close the gender pay divide; global employee benefits company, Mercer, indicates that the pay gap in the UK’s high-tech sector is well above the national average at 25 per cent, compared to 18 per cent across other industries.

The gender pay gap legislation means that from the start of the new tax year, businesses with 250 or more employees are required to publish annual figures showing how big the pay gap is between their male and female employees, including bonus payments. This transparency will provide true insight into the difference between the wages of men and women within a shared organisation. As a result, it will put equal opportunities at the top of the agenda for UK businesses.

Do more, and show your people how

In Networkers’ recent Voice of the Workforce research, which surveyed 1,656 tech professionals, 54 per cent said they believe gender diversity is improving within the sector. In contrast, only one third of respondents actually know what their companies are doing to tackle the issue.

The first step is to ensure there are measures in place to make IT departments and tech businesses attractive to women. Businesses should consider adopting flexible working strategies and return to work schemes for women at all stages of their careers to encourage retention.

The next step is communication. Employers need to showcase what they are doing to address equality, not only for the benefit of new hires, but to foster positive energy and support within existing teams and to demonstrate it is high up on the agenda.

Ensure women’s voices are heard at all levels

Our research shows that tech professionals think companies also need to do more to address unconscious gender bias within leadership teams. This is concurrent with data from other sectors, where we see executive boards being dominated by men.

Companies should look at the current state of diversity within their organisations as they stand now, and evaluate where the gender gaps are most prevalent. We should be asking why, and we should be asking how we can we encourage more woman to apply for positions are that are often male-dominated.

Make IT attractive to younger female generations

We need to give girls the motivation to seek opportunities in tech early on. Research from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) shows how important early years education is in determining children’s career choices. Less than one in 20 girls considers a career in STEM subjects while at school, compared with one in five boys. Moreover, in 2016, only 10 per cent of students working towards an A-level in Computing were girls. There is a long way to go before this is balanced.

Recent steps by the UK government to introduce cybersecurity lessons for schoolchildren is a major step in equipping children with the practical skills they need, as the way we work continues to be transformed by an advancing digital landscape. However, institutions, teachers, and parents also need to find new ways to make young girls consider a career in technology, give them hands on experience, show them the breadth of jobs out there, and encourage girls to envisage what a career in the sector could look like.

Inspiration from women at the top

Shining a spotlight on inspiring women at all levels, in a variety of companies, and within your existing workforce, will help to bolster the ambition of younger female generations to pursue tech careers.

Female role models such as Kathryn Parsons, co-founder and co-CEO of Decoded, who is dedicated to running digital literacy programmes such as ‘Code in a day’ and ‘Hacker in a day’, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, who is inspiring women to ‘Lean In’, and Marissa Mayer, the first female Software Engineer at Google and now president and CEO of Yahoo, are effectively demonstrating that female tech entrepreneurs are crucial to success within the sector.

With only 14.4 per cent of the UK STEM workforce represented by females, it is clear that we need more women in tech. Ultimately, tech businesses should look ahead for long-term solutions to the diversity issue, rather than short term staffing solutions.

By doing so, tech divisions will ensure they are attracting and retaining employees with a broad range of skills, experiences and backgrounds. This will equip them with a versatility that will be crucial in preparing their businesses for future success. Ultimately, companies that fail to address diversity will not keep pace with thriving businesses in a global economy.

About the author

The article was written by James Smith, Managing Director of Networkers.

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